Results tagged ‘ jeremy guthrie ’

9/15/10 at Camden Yards

The good thing about going to an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet in Baltimore…

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…is that there’s plenty of room to run around at Camden Yards and burn off the calories:

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Within the first few minutes of BP, a right-handed batter on the Orioles smoked a line-drive homer that landed in the empty front row. I ran down and grabbed the ball:

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“Who hit that?!” I shouted at my friend Rick Gold, who was camped out ten rows back.

“Fox,” said a voice that came from the warning track.

As it turned out, Kevin Millwood was standing just short of the wall and answered the question for me. How about that? Jake Fox. Yes, of course.

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One minute later, I caught a home run on the fly, and once again I was unable to identify the batter.

“Who was THAT?” I asked Millwood.

“Tatum,” he said.

Ha! Awesome. Craig Tatum. I never would’ve known. And then I caught another Jake Fox homer on the fly.

At around 5:10pm, I snagged my fourth home run ball of the day. It wasn’t Fox. It wasn’t Tatum. Damn. I had no idea who hit it, and Millwood was gone. But whatever. I got the ball — that’s what matters — and (my girlfriend) Jona took a series of photos of me chasing it down. Here’s the first one. It shows me tracking the ball as I drifted to my left:

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As soon as I determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short, I took my eyes off it and focused on climbing over a few rows of seats:

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Then I looked back up as the ball was descending; note the red arrow pointing to it:

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The ball landed, prompting a scramble with the fan in the gray jersey:

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Finally, I beat him to it and grabbed the ball just as he was lunging for it:

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Don’t feel bad for the other guy. He’s there every day and always snags at least a few balls.

Before the Orioles finished their portion of BP, I played catch for a minute with Jeremy Guthrie. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows me catching one of his throws…

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…and here’s another screen shot that shows me tossing it back:

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(Whenever I try to embed a YouTube video on my blog, the format gets messed up, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to click here to watch it.)

In case you’re wondering how I got to play catch with Guthrie, it’s pretty simple: I asked. It also helped that I’ve gotten to know him over the years, but I’ve played catch with lots of players that I’d never met before…like Kyle Farnsworth. Now THAT was fun.

When the Orioles finished hitting, Rick and I each had four baseballs. I asked if we could get a photo together, and as we walked over to a sunny spot, he found a fifth ball hiding in the folded-up portion of a seat. Unbelievable. Here we are moments later:

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The Blue Jays started warming up on the 3rd base side, so I changed into my Jays gear and headed to their dugout. Aaron Hill threw me my fifth ball of the day, and less than a minute later, I got another from Vernon Wells. In the following photo, the horizontal arrow is pointing to Wells, and the vertical arrow is pointing to the ball in mid-air:

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Once the Jays started hitting, I raced back out to the left field seats. Look how empty it was; the arrow is pointing to me:

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Then an amazing thing happened: I got three more balls in a 20-second span. The first two were home runs that I caught on the fly on back-to-back pitches. The third was another homer that landed in the seats…two pitches later, I think. I wasn’t sure who had hit them. Rick (who works for MLB.com) was almost certain that it was Edwin Encarnacion, so I’m gonna assume that that’s who it was.

A few minutes later, Jona called out to me from her spot 15 rows back.

“Can you come here for a minute?” she asked.

I couldn’t imagine what was so important that she’d be pulling me away from my normal spot.

“What is it?” I called back.

She didn’t say anything. She just gave me a look as if to say, “I can’t explain it, so you need to come over here,” and as soon as I started running up the steps, she very subtly pointed at the ground in the middle of a row.

I should know by now not to question her. This is why she called me over:

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Jona knows that I will NOT count a baseball in my collection if another fan gains possession of it first, so instead of picking it up and handing it to me, she called me over so I could grab it myself. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.

That was my 10th ball of the day and No. 4,599 overall. The next ball was going to be a milestone, and in case it ended up being a home run, I wanted to know who was batting.

Well, it WAS a home run. Here I am catching it:

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to identify the batter, and when I asked the players who was hitting, they all ignored me except for Fred Lewis, who saw my Jays gear and said, “You’re a fan. You should know.”

All I know is that it was a right-handed batter with a very open stance. His left side was practically facing third base before he squared up and stepped straight into the pitch. Any ideas?

Here I am posing with No. 4,600 soon after:

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Toward the end of BP, I got Blue Jays bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos to toss me a ball near the foul pole, and then I headed to the 3rd base dugout. Brian Butterfield, the team’s 3rd base coach, ended up walking in with a spare ball in his hand:

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He tossed it to me. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:

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That was my 13th ball of the day, and I got another from Yunel Escobar just before the game (no arrow necessary):

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You may have noticed that in the photo above, I wasn’t wearing my Blue Jays shirt. That was intentional. I figured that everyone on the team recognized me by that point, so I changed my appearance and just went with the hat.

The game itself was incredible — not because I caught anything, but because it only lasted an hour and 55 minutes! I don’t think I’d ever attended a game that finished so fast. The Orioles won, 3-1, behind a 95-pitch, complete-game effort from Brad Bergesen. For the Jays, Kyle Drabek made his major league debut and did pretty well. He allowed three runs in six innings…gave up nine hits, walked three, and struck out five, but the most impressive thing is that he hit 99mph on the radar gun, and I wasn’t even paying attention to the velocity for most of the night, so who knows? He might have even touched triple digits when I wasn’t looking. By the way, Drabek threw 88 pitches, and then two relievers — Shawn Camp and Scott Downs — combined to work the last two innings with thirteen pitches. The Jays and O’s threw a total of 196 pitches. THAT is how to play a game in under two hours. Normally, I love it when games last long, but not when I have a 200-mile drive waiting for me after the final out. Of course, Jona and I didn’t rush toward the garage right away. First I headed to the 3rd base line as the Jays relievers walked in from the bullpen. This was my view as they headed toward me:

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Jesse Carlson tossed me a ball — my 15th of the day — and then Kevin Gregg threw me another 30 seconds later.

After that, I gave away two of my baseballs to kids and headed toward the Eutaw Street exit. Here are the 14 balls I kept:

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The End.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 16 balls at this game

• 247 balls in 26 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.

• 655 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 201 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball

• 129 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,605 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $103.84 raised at this game

• $1,603.03 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/6/10 at Target Field

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Game time: 7:10pm

Arrival-at-the-stadium time: 1:00pm

Yeah, it was another monster day at Target Field, this time thanks to a certain Twins employee, who gave me (and my girlfriend Jona) a private tour of the stadium. (As I mentioned in my previous entry, this employee wishes to remain anonymous, so let’s just call him Kirby.)

Because the tour began more than four hours before the stadium opened, the concourse was empty…

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…and so were the the seats:

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Kirby took us inside Hrbek’s bar…

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…and pointed out that the ceiling is decorated with every different Twins logo in team history. Then he led us into the uber-fancy Champion’s Club, which is located directly behind home plate. Here it is from the outside:

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(That’s Jona in the green jacket and Kirby in the blue shirt.)

This is the reception/entrance area:

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(That’s me sitting at the desk-like podium thing.)

Note the “TC” logos all over the place, including the huge one on the floor and the smaller ones on the logs.

This is what I saw when we headed through the back door of the reception area:

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Normally, when fans enter the club, an auxiliary wall blocks the service tunnel from view, but in this case, since we were there so early, everything was open.

As we wandered through the tunnel, I saw the Twins Family Lounge…

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…and then found myself standing right outside the Twins’ clubhouse:

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Tony Oliva walked by. I said hello and shook his hand. Ho-hum. Just your typical three-time batting champion.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go inside the clubhouse, but hey, no biggie, at least I got to explore the Champion’s Club. Here’s the first thing I saw when I opened the door:

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See those wooden cabinets on the left? This is what was in them:

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Yep, the two Twins World Series trophies from 1987 and 1991.

Here’s a four-part photo that shows more of the Champion’s club:

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All the food is free there — that is, after you’ve spent your life savings on the tickets — including the candy.

This is how you get from the club to the seats…

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…and once you reach the top of the ramp, this is the view of the field:

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Not bad.

From that spot, you’re closer to home plate than the pitcher is.

Justin Morneau was doing some sort of TV shoot just to my left. Meanwhile, out in right field, another Twins player (I think it was Kevin Slowey) was working out with a weighted ball:

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Kirby took us up to the club level and showed us one of the suites:

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Here’s another look at it:

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Reminds me of IKEA. Still pretty nice, though. But it’s not how *I* would ever want to watch a baseball game.

One seriously cool thing about the suites is that they’re all connected, you know, sort of like hotel rooms that have conjoining doors. Check it out:

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If you rent out one suite, there’s a door that shuts and seals it off from the next one, but if you rent two (or all ten), you can open them up.

(In case you didn’t notice, the suites alternate colors — blue and red, the Twins’ colors.)

Here’s what it looked like when I walked out the back door of the suite:

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The next stop on the tour was the Metropolitan Club down the right field line:

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(The previous day, I had wandered all over the stadium on my own, but because of my limited access, there was only so much I could see. This tour completely made up for it and filled in all the missing pieces.)

Here’s one photo that I took inside the Metropolitan Club…

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…and here’s another:

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The club is named after Metropolitan Stadium, the Twins’ home from 1961-1981.

Check out the view of the field from inside the club…

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…and from the outside:

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Check out this lovely view of the standing room area:

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Back inside the club, I took a good look at a display case with some old Metropolitan Stadium memorabilia…

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…and then followed Kirby to the nearby (and equally exclusive) Delta Club (aka the “Legends Club”). Here’s the entrance…

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…and this is what it looked like on the inside:

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The club has a whole area dedicated to Kirby Puckett (not to be confused with Kirby the tour guide):

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See the balcony? That’s the suite level. (There’s a difference between the suite level and the club level, although both levels have suites. Don’t ask.) More on that in a bit…

Here’s a four-part photo that shows some different stuff in the Delta club:

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TOP LEFT: a fancy-schmancy hallway

TOP RIGHT: a wall with famous Twins play-by-play quotes

BOTTOM LEFT: a bar/lounge with a staircase that leads to the suite level

BOTTOM RIGHT: a deli, located in the concourse

Before we went upstairs, I checked out the seats in front of the press box:

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(That cross-aisle, if you can ever get there, is great for game foul balls.)

Here’s the hallway and balcony on the suite level:

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The area down below, dedicated to Rod Carew, is part of the Delta/Legends club.

Here’s what the truly fancy suite-level suites look like (as opposed to the slightly-less-fancy club-level suites, which you saw earlier):

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Kirby told me that these suites go for “six figures” per season, and that there’s a “five-year commitment” required.

(Ahem, excuse me?!)

Here’s the suite’s outdoor seating area. I’ve drawn arrows pointing to a) a heat lamp and b) a flat-screen TV:

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Here’s another section of the suite-level hallway:

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(Six figures? Seriously?)

Kirby led us up to the upper deck, and then we headed toward the Budweiser Party deck:

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Here’s what it looks like up there. The big rectangular thing in the middle of the photo is a fire pit:

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(Can you imagine if they had one of these at Yankee Stadium? Red Sox games would be so much more entertaining.)

Here’s the partial view of the field from the third row of seating:

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Here I am with Jona:

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That was pretty much the end of the tour, but even on the way out, there was interesting stuff to see:

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(To the anonymous Twins employee who gave me the tour, thank you SO much. It was one of the most special things I’ve ever done inside a major league stadium.)

It was 3pm. Jona was starving (and bein’ all vegan), so we found a Mexican restaurant where she ordered beans and rice (which somehow had a piece of beef buried in it).

At around 4pm — 90 minutes before the stadium was going to open — we headed over to Gate 34. I could see that the batting cage was set up, and half an hour later, the Twins started hitting:

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Ten minutes after that…

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…I managed to snag a ball outside the stadium. A left-handed batter on the Twins crushed a home run down the line. The ball cleared the bleachers and was bouncing right toward me across the standing room area. As I reached through the gate to prepare for the easy snag, a young usher hustled over and scooped up the ball. I made such a big fuss about it (in a friendly way) that he ended up tossing it to me — but his throw was off the mark, and the ball clanked off one of the bars and started rolling to my left. He chased after it, then returned and apologized for the bad throw and handed the ball to me.

Outstanding.

Once the stadium opened, I went to the corner spot down the left field foul line. Jona hung back in the bleachers so she’d be in a good spot to take photos with her own camera. Here she is…

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…and here are some of the photos she took:

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(Sigh.)

I got Jason Berken to toss me my second ball of the day, and then I promptly booted a grounder that was yanked down the line. In my own defense, let me say this: it was a three-hopper, hit hard with a ton of topspin. Not only did I get an in-between hop, but the ball came up on me and deflected off my wrist. (It came up so much that it completely missed my glove.) It was the kind of bad hop that the casual fan wouldn’t notice, but anyone who’s ever played infield knows how tough these balls can be. After I booted it, Will Ohman (who was shagging balls in left field) started making fun of me. I got the last laugh, however, by snagging three ground balls in the next 20 minutes. Here’s a photo that shows me leaning out of the stands for one of them:

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On this particular grounder, I leaned WAY out of the stands as soon as the ball was hit. Then, when it ended up hooking back toward me, I didn’t need to reach out with full extension. The day before, I had actually reached past the foul line for a grounder, but Jona wasn’t there to document it.

I ran over to the Orioles’ dugout at the end of BP and called out to Jeremy Guthrie.

“Hey, what’s up, Zack?” he asked.

Very cool. I knew he’d remember me (from all the Orioles games I’d attended last year), but this was the first time he’d actually said my name.

Here I am talking to him:

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We chatted for a couple minutes, during which time he asked me if I’d gotten a ball yet.

“Yeah,” I’m all set, I told him, “but thanks for asking.”

He’s awesome. Case closed.

After BP, I posed with my Target Field commemorative balls…

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…and met a season ticket holder named Richard (aka “twibnotes”) who’s been reading this blog for quite some time. He and I hung out for half an hour — and then I had to take off and try to snag a pre-game warm-up ball.

Great success!!

Cesar Izturis tossed one to me at the dugout. The following photo shows the ball in mid-air:

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As you can see, the stands were packed, but there wasn’t any competition. Everyone else was pretty much sitting down, patiently waiting for the game to start.

It rained during the game for the third straight day, but that didn’t affect my plan. I just stayed out in the standing room area, hoping that a lefty would get a hold of one and pull it down the line. The following photo shows where I was standing:

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(I was still wearing my bright orange Ripken shirt.)

This was my view from that spot:

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My friend Bob (aka “Big Glove Bob”) came out and found me in the standing room area, and we chatted on and off throughout the game. Another guy who’s been reading this blog also found me. His name is Pete Gasperlin (aka “pgasperlin”), and he’s the founder of the Denard Span fan club on Facebook.

Here’s a photo of Jona with a ball that she’d snagged earlier in the day:

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Yes, that’s the right, the young lady grabbed her fourth lifetime baseball during BP when a home run landed in the camera well down the left field line. The Tigers, it should be noted, were using a combination of regular and commemorative balls. Also, in case you’re wondering, in the five Twins games that I’ve attended this season, I have not seen a single Metrodome ball.

As the game reached the middle innings, Jona got really cold (because it was really cold). Pete came to the rescue. He had season tickets that gave him access to the Metropolitan Club, so he took her up there. He and I hung out for a bit after that. Turns out that we’ll both be at Turner Field on May 17th. Weird.

With three outs remaining in the Orioles’ 2-0 victory, I got tired of the standing room area and headed here:

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The move paid off. Look what I ended up getting:

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Home plate umpire Tony Randazzo tossed me a rubbed-up commemorative ball as he headed off the field, and then Orioles manager Dave Trembley gave me his Twins lineup card. Here’s a better look at it.

Of all the lineup cards I’ve gotten over the years, this is one of my favorites because of Trembley’s notations. Did you notice what he wrote next to Nick Punto’s name? It says, “NOT GOOD RHH .083,” which obviously means that Punto, a switch-hitter, is terrible from the right side. Directly above that, Trembley noted that Alexi Casilla is better against left-handed pitching. And who knew that Jim Thome was 0-for-3 against Will Ohman?

My day of snagging wasn’t done. Orioles reliever Matt Albers threw me my eighth ball of the day when he walked in from the bullpen, and then Alan Dunn, the bullpen coach, tossed me another less than 60 seconds later. (If I hadn’t dropped that stupid grounder during BP, I would’ve hit double digits — something Bob had said would be impossible at this stadium.)

Before heading back to our hotel, Jona and I stopped by Smalley’s 87 Club for one final meal, this time with a gentleman named Albert (and his kids), who had helped two days earlier with the media.

Aside from the lack of game home runs, my time in Minnesota could not have been any better.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 9 balls at this game (seven pictured on the right because I gave two away)

• 82 balls in 8 games this season = 10.25 balls per game.

• .813 Ballhawk Winning Percentage this season (6.5 wins, 1.5 losses)

• 637 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 188 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 4,440 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 29 donors (click here to learn more and get involved)

• $3.85 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $34.65 raised at this game

• $315.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/15/09 at Camden Yards

The day got off to a GREAT start…

Camden Yards opened at 5pm. I was the first one in, of course, and when I ran out to the left field seats, I found a ball sitting in the front row in foul territory:

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As soon as I reached the foul pole and looked to my right, I discovered another ball…

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…and when I headed out toward left-center field, I saw this:

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Amazing. And then things got better.

During the next ten minutes (or so), I caught four home runs on the fly. I don’t know who hit any of them, but I can tell you that the last one impressed Jeremy Guthrie. He was shagging out in left field, just shy of the warning track, and had a perfect view.

Here’s how it played out (and FYI, all the photos of me were taken by my girlfriend Jona)…

As the home run was approaching, I drifted into the middle of a row to get in line with it, and then I realized that it was going to carry a few feet too far, so I stepped up onto a seat:

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At the very last second, I jumped up FROM the seat and made the catch high over my head, reaching back all the way. The following photo shows me at the peak of my jump with the ball already in my glove:

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Do you see the guy right in front of me with the dark blue shirt? He’s always out in the left field seats at Camden Yards, and Guthrie got all over him.

“Dude, you got posterized!!!” shouted Guthrie, who then reenacted the fan’s failed attempt to catch the ball:

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That other fan happens to be a nice guy and a talented ballhawk. I forget his name (because I just suck with names sometimes) but we’ve snagged together a bunch of times. He robbed me of a few homers earlier in the season, and this time I got the better of him. It happens.

Guthrie and I talked for a few minutes after that. He asked me how things were going with the charity, and I told him that this was probably the last Orioles game I’d be attending this season.

I ended up catching so many home runs during BP that I now can’t remember any of the details. It was truly insane. The following four-part photo shows me catching (or rather, ABOUT to catch) four different homers. In the bottom two photos, I’m wearing a dark blue Rays shirt:

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Everything was going my way. I happened to be in the right spot almost every time. Was it luck? Or skill? I suppose it was a combination of the two, but I really can’t explain it beyond that. I’d never experienced a batting practice like this in my life. Even the previous game (at which I finished BP with 17 balls and ended up with 22 by the end of the night) wasn’t this good.

Naturally, over the course of BP, there were some highs and lows and lulls.

There was running:

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There was pain:

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(The running needed work.)

And there was friendship:

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You know how you’ll run into a person several times over the course of a few months or years, and you never really connect or get to know them, but you can tell that it’s someone you could potentially be great friends with, and then eventually it all clicks into place and you finally have a solid conversation with them? Well, last night was THAT night for me and the guy pictured above in the orange shirt. His name is Adam. He’s a regular at Camden Yards, and he reads this blog.

Back to snagging…

For those keeping score at home (including Alan Schuster, who is kind enough to update my MyGameBalls.com profile for me), here’s a rundown of all the balls I got during the first 45 minutes:

1) easter egg
2) easter egg
3) easter egg
4) easter egg
5) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
6) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
7) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
8) Orioles homer; caught on the fly (“posterized”)
9) Orioles homer; grabbed it after it bounced
10) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
11) thrown by an unknown lefty pitcher on the Rays
12) B.J. Upton homer; caught on the fly
13) Rays homer; caught on the fly
14) Pat Burrell homer; caught on the fly

It was around this time that I realized I had a chance to snag 20 balls for a second consecutive game. Could it be done?!

Matt Garza threw me a ball from about 120 feet away. The ball was falling short, so I leaned waaaaay out and down below the left field wall to try to catch it…

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…but it tipped off the end of the my glove and settled on the warning track. Grant Balfour walked over and picked it up. I was afraid he’d recognize me from the previous day (when he gave me a ball during BP), and perhaps he did, but either way, I convinced him to toss it up.

Then I caught another home run on the fly in heavy traffic. One guy’s glove was RIGHT in my face, but I managed to hold on.

tom_foley_2009.jpgThen Tom Foley, the Rays’ third base coach, was walking through the outfield with a ball in one hand a fungo bat in the other.

“Coach!” I yelled, “Hit me a fungo!”

He looked up and threw me the ball instead. I was about five rows back, and the ball was falling short, so I climbed over a row while the ball was in mid-air and then reached way down over the next row to make a lunging catch.

Then a young kid behind me bobbled a home run ball, which I was able to snatch on one bounce. I immediately turned around and handed it to him. It was my 18th ball of the day.

Without warning, a ball smacked down into the seats one section to my right. I couldn’t tell where it had come from. I’d been watching the batter the whole time, and he hadn’t hit anything that reached the seats. Then I realized that Foley was standing on the foul line just behind 3rd base. He was hitting deep fungos toward left field so that the pitchers (who had nothing better to do) could try to rob home runs. The next fungo fell several feet short of the wall, and I lunged way out for it…

12_zack_getting_robbed_by_player.jpg

…but I got robbed by Brian Shouse. In the photo above, you can see the ball streaking into his black glove. You can also see Lance Cormier’s glove flying 30 feet in the air. He had thrown it up to try to hit the ball. (If I were a manager, I wouldn’t let my players goof around like that unless we had already clinched a playoff berth.)

Then I got my revenge. I think it was Balfour who tried to catch the next fungo, but the ball cleared the wall by three feet, and I was all over it:

13_zack_catching_ball4279.jpg

That was my 19th ball of the day!

And then I had my chance to snag No. 20. There was a home run hit half a section to my left, so I drifted over and made a leaping catch at the last second, right next to a man who’d been whining about all the balls I was catching (even though he’d already snagged quite a few balls himself). He also accused me of never giving balls to kids (even though I’d just given one to a kid two minutes earlier). In the following photo, you can see this clown standing behind me in the light blue shirt. As for me, this was my reaction after catching the ball and reaching TWENTY for the second straight day:

14_zack_20th_ball_of_day.jpg

Foley was still hitting fungos. One more of them reached the seats, and I caught it.

(?!?!?!?!?!)

There was one final home run ball hit to me during BP. Here I am tracking it:

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Here I am reaching up to make the catch:

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See the guy with the long hair and goatee? He must’ve weighed about 250 pounds, and then…

BAM!!!

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He slammed into me and nearly sent me tumbling headfirst over the railing, but guess what? I held onto the ball.

“AND ONE!!!” I yelled with a smile, indicating that he had fouled me.

Everyone else in the section laughed.

I had snagged 22 balls, including 11 home runs on the fly. Both of those totals were BP records for me.

Six of the 22 balls had interesting markings, smudges, scuffs, and grass stains:

18_six_cool_balls.jpg

In the six-part photo above, the ball on the top left has a small bat imprint on it. I’m pretty sure the imprinted word (which appears here in reverse) is “SELECT.” This is the ball that Balfour tossed to me after Garza’s throw fell short. The ball on the lower right was my 20th of the day.

After batting practice, I raced to the 3rd base dugout and got my 23rd ball of the day tossed by Rays bullpen coach Bobby Ramos. (This ball broke my single-game Camden Yards record of 22, which I had set the day before.) Then, right before the game started, I got No. 24 from Evan Longoria. He was using the ball to play catch with Willy Aybar, and when they finished, he threw it to me as a knuckleball. It was such a great day that even Jona got a ball after BP. I was in the front row behind the Rays’ dugout, and she was half a dozen rows back with my camera. I asked George Hendrick, the Rays’ first base coach, for the ball, but he scanned the seats and spotted her and tossed it her way instead. D’oh! (I need an uglier girlfriend.)

I spent the game in the standing-room-only section in right field. Here’s a photo of me walking toward Jona during an inning break:

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I stayed out there for all the left-handed batters.

This is where I positioned myself for the righties:

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I did lots of running all night, even with my battered right ankle which by this point was stinging and badly bruised. But it was worth it. This was a good foul ball spot. I had empty rows on both sides. But, unfortunately, nothing came close.

Back in right field, there was some action in the bottom of the 7th inning. Luke Scott led off and smoked a 2-0 pitch deep and to my right. The ball was clearly going to land in the seats and NOT in the standing-room-only section, but I took off and ran for it anyway. There were so many empty seats that anything seemed possible.

The following photo is a screen shot that I took from MLB.com. The red arrow is pointing to me:

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Miraculously, the ball bounced all the way into the narrow walkway at the back of the section. As it began rattling around, there were two other guys closing in on it from the opposite direction, and I was sure, for an instant, that they were going to get there first…but then the ball hit the edge of one of those brick pillars and ricocheted in MY direction. The ball was heading right for my knee, and it nearly got past me. I barely had time to react as I bent down to simply try to stop it from getting away:

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And then, suddenly, I felt the ball in my right hand. Just like that! It bounced RIGHT into my hand. I kind of trapped it up against the wall and against my leg. I couldn’t believe it, but I *did* in fact have sole possession of the ball.

This was my reaction:

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It was my 9th career game home run ball (toss-ups excluded). I feel like that’s an embarrassingly low number, but in my own defense, I *have* snagged 124 foul balls and one ground-rule double.

It’s tough to catch balls in the standing-room-only section. The view from the back looks like this…

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…so you can’t even see the ball until it’s a third of the way to you.

The following photo shows where I ran to grab the Luke Scott home run ball:

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See what I mean? There’s not that much space back there.

Here’s the home run ball itself…

24_ball4285_luke_scott_homer.jpg

…and here’s the video highlight on MLB.com. I hope it works. I always have trouble with streaming video on my laptop. If there’s anyone reading this who either taped the game or can somehow pull this clip off the internet and convert it into an .AVI or .MOV format, please let me know. I’d love to upload the clip to this page on my web site, which lists all of my game home runs.

Okay, so this seems like the best day ever, right? Well, unfortunately, I pissed it all away with one inexcusable error. In the bottom of the 8th, Matt Wieters hit a deep home run that was heading toward the center-field side of the standing-room-only section. I bolted about 40 feet to my right and, to put it simply (because it’s too painful to relive the details), I should’ve caught the ball and didn’t. Epic fail. No excuses. I was (and still am) stunned and humiliated, and I just hope that I get the chance to redeem myself someday. The few people who witnessed (or heard about) my meltdown tried to comfort me with words of wisdom. The worst thing that anyone said was, “Think how boring life would be if you were perfect.” (That asinine gem came from a female usher who then hugged me.) The best thing anyone said was, “Hey, it happened to Luis Castillo.” (That came from my friend Leon Feingold.) Ultimately, nothing will cheer me up. I’ll just have to get over it, in my own way, at my own pace, and focus better from this moment on…

SNAGGING STATS:

25_the_24_i_kept.jpg• 25 balls at this game (24 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 465 balls in 52 games this season = 8.94 balls per game.

• 621 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 178 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 117 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 6 lifetime games with at least 20 balls

• 9 lifetime game home runs

• 4 different stadiums with at least one game home run (Old Yankee, Shea, PETCO, and Camden)

• 4,285 total balls

• 1 gut-wrenching mistake

CHARITY STATS:

• 126 donors (it’s not too late to make a pledge)

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $631.50 raised at this game

• $11,745.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/27/09 at Camden Yards

Earlier this season, I had two Watch With Zack games with a 14-year-old Yankee fan named Joe. He and I combined for 22 balls on 5/8/09 at Citi Field, and then we visited the Pitch In For Baseball warehouse on our way to Citizens Bank Park on 7/6/09. Remember?

Well, Joe is incredibly generous. He had an extra season ticket for this game at Camden Yards, and he offered it to me. (A season ticket at Camden gets you into the left field seats half an hour early.) He didn’t care that I’d be competing with him for baseballs. He just wanted to see me in action and hang out and help me add to my collection. Truly amazing. And of course I took him up on it.

I made the drive from New York City with Jona, and we arrived at the stadium at around 4pm. Here we are with Joe outside the Eutaw Street gate:

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See that ball I’m holding? It was a cheap, six-dollar “Babe Ruth” ball that Joe bought from the team store so that we could play catch:

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He had just gotten a new glove and needed some help breaking it in.

The stadium opened at 5pm, and we hurried out to the left field seats. (Jona, unfortunately, was trapped in right field for the first half hour because she didn’t have a season ticket.)

jeremy_guthrie_2008a.jpgJeremy Guthrie was shagging in left field, so I shouted his name, and when he looked up, the first thing he shouted back was, “Hey! How’s the baseball collection coming along?!”

Then he walked a little closer and told me that he’d heard I was at Yankee Stadium the previous week.

“Yeah,” I said, “on July 20th. I was looking for you.”

And that was pretty much the end of our conversation.

Two minutes later, Joe and I each found a ball sitting in the second row. Here’s the one that I grabbed (which I later gave to an usher to give to the kid of his choice):

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Then I went on a snagging rampage. I started by picking up a ball that bounced into the first row in left-center field. Then I caught FOUR home runs on the fly, all pretty much in straight-away left. (I think Ty Wigginton hit one of them and Adam Jones hit another, but whatever.) Then I won a two-person race and grabbed another home run ball that had
landed in the folded up portion of a seat, and I finished the first half-hour by catching another
ball4150.jpghomer on the fly (pictured here on the right). Some guy in the row in front of me had jumped for it at the last second, and it cleared his glove by six inches. That gave me eight balls on the day. It was nuts. At one point I had six balls bulging out of my pockets because I didn’t have a chance to label them and put them in my backpack. I should admit that I missed out on three balls that I should’ve (or at least could’ve) had. Two were home runs that basically came right to me, but I wasn’t aggressive enough in boxing out this one other guy. Then there was a ground-rule double that tipped off the very end of my glove when I jumped for it. AARRGHH!!! I wasn’t making flat-out errors, but I still wasn’t happy with my performance.

This was the scene shortly after 5:30pm when the left field seats opened to everyone:

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Do you see anything disturbing in the photo above?

No?

Let me zoom in a little for you:

5_kid_sleeping_during_BP_closeup.jpg

What kind of IDIOT leaves a little kid alone in a section where baseballs go flying into the crowd, not to mention a little kid who’s sleeping?!?! (These are no doubt the the same type of parents who leave their kids in the car with the windows rolled up when they go shopping at Walmart, or better yet, who use their kids as drug mules.)

Halfway through the Royals’ portion of batting practice, I tried using my glove trick to pluck a ball off the warning track–and I would’ve gotten it if Roman Colon hadn’t walked over and moved the ball further out. Here’s a photo that Jona took from about 50 feet away. You can see my glove dangling on the field:

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I could tell that Colon was just having fun and messing with me in a good-natured way (unlike our friend Gustavo Chacin), and sure enough, after teasing me for a solid minute, he picked up the ball and flipped it to me.

A few minutes later, I made my best play of the day. There was a deep fly ball hit in my direction, and I immediately judged that it was going to sail over my head, so I drifted back a couple steps, then looked down and scooted further up the stairs. It was kinda like I was an outfielder who takes his eye off the ball and runs to the spot where he thinks it will land. I looked back up and spotted the ball as it was descending…

7_zack_about_to_catch_ball4152.jpg

…and then reached way up over my head at the last second and made the catch. See the guy wearing the yellow shirt? If this had been a basketball game, he would’ve been charged with a foul–possibly even a flagrant foul. At the instant that the ball smacked into my glove, his left arm was wrapped tightly around my neck. I think it was an accident, but still there’s no excuse for that.

Here’s my favorite photo of the day. It shows me taking notes while Joe is looking out at the field:

8_joe_zack_taking_notes.jpg

See that pinkish ring on the inside of my right knee? Yeah, ouch. Twenty minutes earlier, I banged into a seat while scrambling for a loose home run ball, and no, I didn’t get it.

Orioles manager Dave Trembley signed autographs after batting practice:

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I got him on Jona’s ticket:

9a_dave_trembley_autograph.jpg

Here I am with Joe a few minutes later:

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If you want to know how many balls Joe ended up snagging, you’ll have to check out his blog.

I headed over to the 3rd base side. Billy Butler and Zack Greinke started signing:

11_zack_getting_autographs.jpg

That’s me in the blue shirt, patiently waiting for my turn. I’d brought a ticket from Kauffman Stadium and got them both to sign it:

11a_greinke_butler_autographs.jpg

Greinke signed in black ON the black portion of the ticket with someone else’s Sharpie. Brilliant. And when I told him that my name is “Z-A-C-K as well,” he didn’t even look up or respond. What a doofus. Has anyone ever had a positive interaction with him? When I saw him last month in Kansas City, he was similarly quite/cold/rude. Is it the social anxiety disorder? Is that a legitimate excuse for not even responding when someone speaks politely to you from three feet away? I was the only fan who bothered to thank him for signing, and he didn’t say “You’re welcome.” I don’t care who you are or what kind of “disorder” you’re diagnosed with. How hard is it to say “You’re welcome”? Am I being too critical? I’ve met parrots who can say it.

Maybe I’m just writing this blog entry out of frustration…

Right before the game started, I positioned myself along the foul line in shallow left field to try to get a ball tossed my way. I was the ONLY fan with a glove, and I was the ONLY fan wearing Royals gear. If ever there was a guaranteed ball, this was it. What happened next? Alex Gordon threw me a ball…and missed…by ten feet! Here I am, climbing up onto the brick ledge, reaching out helplessly with an extreme look of dismay:

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Here’s a closeup of my reaction (with Gordon trying to use body English on the upper right to direct his crappy throw my way):

13_zack_dismayed_over_bad_throw_closeup.jpg

Five words, Mister Gordon: That’s why you’re the Royals.

During the game, I stayed in the right field standing-room-only section for all the lefties, and of course there was no action. As for the righties, whenever there were at least two of them hitting back-to-back, I moved to a tunnel behind home plate. Perfect foul ball spot. At one point late in the game, I stopped to talk to a friendly usher on the way to my spot, and wouldn’t you know it, a high-arcing foul ball landed EXACTLY where I would’ve been standing–where I *had* been standing throughout the night. The ball clapped off the pavement in the middle of the empty cross-aisle. It was painful, so please, forgive me for being annoyed after having snagged 10 balls. The day was filled with more frustration than success.

Let me end on a positive note. Here are two nice things about the day:

1) I met a bunch of different people who read this blog, as well as a few folks who recognized me from YouTube and various other places.

2) Billy Butler was my Beat The Streak hitter, and he went 5-for-5, mwahaha! I now have a 10-game streak for the first time since I started playing last month. (I have Prince Fielder going tonight against Collin Balester.) Of course, now that I’ve bragged about it, it’s surely going to end. I’d just like to say, though, that if I somehow win the $1.5 million prize, I’m going to use the money to attend 150 (or more) baseball games in one season at all 30 major league stadiums, and I will attempt to snag 1,000 balls. (And, since I promised, I’m also going to buy Jona a Mini Cooper.)

Anyway, that was it. No homers near me during the game. No foul balls. No umpire ball. No dugout ball. No bullpen ball. Nothing. All of my snagging was confined to the first 50 minutes of the day. What a waste of a potentially monstrous performance. (So much for ending on a positive note. Oops.)

SNAGGING STATS:

• 10 balls at this game (including 6 home runs that I caught on the fly)

• 332 balls in 39 games this season = 8.51 balls per game.

• 608 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 169 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 110 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 49 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls

• 4,152 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 116 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)

• $24.69 pledged per ball

• $246.90 raised at this game

• $8,197.08 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

(Wait, THAT’S a positive note. I passed the $8,000 plateau…)

5/7/09 at Camden Yards

I attended this game with my friend Sean, and we met up with a couple other guys who read this blog: Donnie (aka “donnieanks” in the comments) and Gary (aka “gjk2212″). Here we all are outside the Eutaw Street gate. From left to right: Donnie, Sean, me, and Gary:

1_donnie_sean_zack_gary.jpg

As a baseball fan, this was one of the worst days of my life. Not only did I learn that Manny Ramirez is officially a fraud (I’m done rooting for him now), but it was sunny and there was NO batting practice. This was the ugly scene when I ran inside the stadium at 5pm:

2_no_batting_practice.jpg

Jeremy Guthrie was walking from the bullpen through right-center field. I ran down to the front row and called out to him and thanked him for playing catch with me the day before. He told me he saw me get the two foul balls during the game. I asked him why there wasn’t batting practice. He shrugged and headed off toward the dugout. (I later heard two theories about the lack of BP. The first was that the field was still too wet from all the rain the night before, and the second was that the managers decided to skip BP because the players had been up so late.)

I saw a pitcher throwing in the Orioles’ bullpen, so I ran over…

3_ball3962_location.jpg

…and got one of the guys to toss me a ball when they were done, but it fell inexcusably short and bounced off the wall and rolled back toward them. Bullpen coach Alan Dunn walked over and picked it up.

“Go ahead and THROW it!” I shouted. “I won’t get hurt. I’ll catch it. I promise.”

That convinced him and he fired the ball right to me. It felt good to get that first ball out of the way.

There wasn’t anything else going on at that point, so I cut through the seats and slowly made my way toward the infield. Moments later I saw Sean running toward me and frantically waving me over. He said Guthrie had been talking to Ken Rosenthal about me, and that Rosenthal wanted to interview me.

“Are you SERIOUS?!” I said. “Thanks so much! How did that happen?”

Sean just told me that Guthrie was in the dugout and that I should go over there and talk to him.

This is what I saw when I got to the dugout:

4_jeremy_guthrie_dugout.jpg

In the photo above, you can see Rosenthal wearing a suit and tie, standing off in the distance on the warning track. I couldn’t believe this was really going to happen. Finally, I was going to have a chance to tell a national audience about my charity efforts.

I asked Guthrie what was up. He told me to “go over and talk to Ken.” I thanked him profusely and then headed toward the outfield end of the dugout.

Rosenthal was busy talking to Adam Eaton, so I stood there and waited.

Then the grounds crew covered the field:

5_here_comes_the_tarp.jpg

In the photo above, Rosenthal is like, “Is this really happening?”

That was my thought too. This whole thing seemed fantastically bizarre, so when Eaton finally walked off, I shouted, “Hey Ken!”

He looked up, and I continued by saying, “I think I might be the victim of a practical joke, but Jeremy Guthrie told me you were looking for me.”

“Yeah, you are,” he said.

“Oh…” I replied, mildly amused and a bit deflated by the whole situation…”well, do you know who I am?”

“No.”

ken_rosenthal.jpg

“He didn’t tell you about me? I’m the guy who collects baseballs. I have almost 4,000 of them and–”

Rosenthal clearly wasn’t interested, so I stopped talking and walked off. Guthrie was already gone by that point, and 10 seconds later I saw Gary get a ball tossed to him behind the Twins’ dugout. Fabulous. Jeremy Guthrie COST me a ball (and cost Pitch In For Baseball roughly $20), but I suppose it was worth it. I can forever say that I’ve been pranked by a major league baseball player.

I did end up getting a ball behind the Twins’ dugout about five minutes later. Two coaches were playing catch. Gary was still over there, camped out in the front with his Twins gear, so my only chance was to move back about 10 rows and hope that the coach who ended up with the ball would take pleasure in making the more difficult throw to ME. That’s exactly what happened. The only problem was that the coaches were wearing warm-up jerseys covering their uniform numbers, so I had no idea who they were. Before they disappeared into the dugout, I pulled out my camera and took a few quick pics of the guy who’d hooked me up. When I got back to NYC late that night (and was reunited with my internet connection), I emailed the pics to my friend Bob (aka “bigglovebob”) in Minnesota and asked him who it was, and when I woke up this morning, I had an answer: Jerry White. Yay for technology. (And thanks to Bob.)

I headed toward the right field foul line because a couple Orioles were playing catch:

6_t_bone_playing_catch.jpg

In the photo above, you can see two fans all the way down in the front row. The fan on the right (in the orange shirt) was Donnie, and he still hadn’t snagged a ball, so I told him I’d stay back, and that I wouldn’t even ask for the ball when the guys were done. The only problem for Donnie was that he didn’t assert himself enough when the throwing session ended. The guy closer to him was first base coach John Shelby, and he started walking toward the dugout with TWO balls in his glove.

“Go on,” I told Donnie, “walk alongside him in the seats.”

Donnie moved slowly and asked softly, and Shelby was escaping with his brisk walk.

I decided at that point that I had to go for it, so I cut through the seats and caught up with Shelby and said, “Excuse me, is there any chance you could spare a baseball, please?”

“SPARE a baseball?” replied Shelby. “I never heard THAT one before. SPARE a baseball? Are you planning to give it back?”

(Yeah…anyway. Thanks. I didn’t say “borrow,” so why don’t you stick to coaching first base and leave the wordplay to the professionals?)

Thankfully it was a rhetorical question, and as soon as he finished asking it, he reached into his glove and pulled out a ball and flipped it to me.

Five minutes later, the confused grounds crew half-removed the tarp…

7_dopey_grounds_crew.jpg

…and several Twins came out and started throwing:

8_twins_throwing_snore.jpg

Jesse Crain tossed me a ball when he was done, and less than a minute later, an overthrow (by Jose Mijares, I think) skipped off the top of the brick wall and landed several rows back. There was an all-out race for the ball, and thanks to the fact that other fans never seem to realize that gravity makes balls roll down steps, I ended up getting it. (People always run RIGHT to the spot where the ball lands, rather than heading to a spot several rows below as I always do.)

If I’d had anything worth getting signed, I probably would’ve gotten about a dozen autographs. It seemed like half the Twins’ roster came over and signed, but I didn’t have any ticket stubs, and I didn’t want the balls signed (I keep those pure except for my own teeny markings), so I just got close and took photos. Here’s a shot of Kevin Slowey (what a horrible name for a pitcher, but at least his first name isn’t Homer) and Joe Nathan:

9_slowey_and_nathan.jpg

You know how players have their names stitched onto their gloves? Well, I don’t know if this was Nathan’s practice glove or what, but there was something funny stitched on it. Check it out:

10_joe_nathans_glove.jpg

I got my sixth ball of the day thrown by Michael Cuddyer right before the game started. Nothing fancy. Pre-game throwing along the foul line. Yawn. None of the six balls were commemorative.

I spent most of the game in the standing room only section (aka “the flag court”) down the right field line. Here’s a look at that section from a spot just foul of the pole:

11_flag_court_niiiiiice.jpg

Pretty nice, eh?

The only problem with that section, from a ballhawking perspective, is that when you’re standing at the back of it, you can’t see the field:

12_view_from_flag_court.jpg

I nearly caught Aubrey Huff’s home run in the bottom of the third inning. It was a line drive that barely cleared the wall on my right, and as I ran up to make the catch, the people who were standing at the wall backed up and flinched and got right in my way, forcing ME to back up and flinch (so I wouldn’t get creamed by a deflection). The ball hit some lady on the butt, and before I could see where it landed, some other guy (with no glove, of course) swooped in and snatched it. I definitely would’ve caught it on the fly if not for these people. Very very very very very very very frustrating…but I can’t blame them. I blame Aubrey Huff for not hitting it five feet higher.

That was the only action for me for the rest of the night. I ran over to the Orioles’ dugout with two outs in the ninth inning…

13_ninth_inning_05_07_09.jpg

…but didn’t get anything there.

Final score: Zack 6, Orioles 5, Twins 4.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game

• 147 balls in 19 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

• 588 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 158 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 3,967 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 103 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)

• $20.38 pledged per ball

• $122.28 raised at this game

• $2,995.86 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/21/08 at Yankee Stadium

Last day ever at Yankee Stadium…

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The magnitude of this game never really sunk in; although I felt a bit
sad at various points throughout the day, I still had to keep reminding
myself that this was THE LAST time I’d ever be there. It just felt like
all the commotion was yet another formality. I mean, even in May, there were fans who couldn’t find tickets…

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…so what made this any different?

Obviously this is just a matter of opinion, but I think MY sign was
better. Here I am holding it up with my Watch With Zack clients for the
day: a man named Jeff and his two sons Scott and Adam:

zack_sign_jeff_scott_adam.jpg

If you’ve been reading this blog since last year, you might remember these guys from 9/29/07 at Camden Yards.

Here are our four tickets. Silver stamping. Nice…

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The stadium was going to open at 1pm–more than seven hours before game
time–and we arrived a couple hours before that. We waited outside Gate
6 so that we’d be able to run inside and claim the corner spot on the
short porch in right field. Clearly, THAT was going to be the best
place to get balls during batting practice. Even though fans were going
to be allowed to walk *ON* (and all the way around) the warning track
from 1 to 4pm, I didn’t want to take any chances by not going to the
corner spot right away. BP was scheduled to begin at around 5pm. I knew
the stadium would be packed by that time. I didn’t want to end up
scrambling for a spot at the last minute and getting buried in the
crowd, and more than ever I needed to be in a visible spot. Not only had Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie promised me a ball two days earlier,
but my 561-game streak was on the line. I didn’t want to blow it for
the chance to scoop up some warning track dirt, and besides, there were
other mementos available…like the peeling paint on the outside of the
stadium, which the fan below was unabashedly pulling off for a
photographer:

fan_chips_paint_off_wall.jpg

There was a huge crowd behind us when GATE 6 opened for the final time.
We ran in and sprinted to the corner spot. Just about everyone else
made a beeline for Monument Park. That’s where fans were going to be
allowed to walk onto the field–through the same gate that Mariano
Rivera would be using in the ninth inning–but none of us had any
serious interest. Jeff had been on the field before. I’d been on other
fields, so I didn’t feel the NEED to walk on this one. I just wanted to
hold onto the corner spot, and Adam (who really wanted a ball) was
happy to hang with me. Scott (who hadn’t brought his glove because he
couldn’t find it) was the only one who wanted to walk on the field, so
he and his dad headed over to the other side of the stadium. They
returned less than an hour later. The line was absurdly long so they
gave up. Jeff said it snaked way back into the concourse, then up the
ramps to the upper deck (!!!), then through the upper deck concourse
and back down the ramps toward home plate, and I think he even said it
then went back toward home plate and up again to the Loge Level. I
forget the exact details of his account of the line, but you get the
point. Therefore, the four of us hung out on the short porch, which
remained mostly empty for the first two hours.

The highlight of my day (and there were many) was running into a
legendary ballhawk I used to know in the early 1990s–an older gentleman
named Artie. I couldn’t believe it when I saw him. It had been about 15
years since we’d crossed paths, and he was already gray-haired back
then. We used to see each other ALL the time, and when he disappeared,
I didn’t know what to think. Had he gotten too old to chase baseballs?
Had he given up his season tickets? Had he died?! For years and years,
I had been thinking of him and remembering all the times that he took
me under his wing and calmed me down when stadium security and other
fans were giving me a hard time. It’s like he was a second father to
me, or maybe even a grandfather. We were ALWAYS out in right field
together, chasing baseballs, and we’d talk for hours every day during
BP and after BP and during the game. I’d told other friends about him,
and I always wondered how many baseballs he had. I knew it had to be
hundreds, and I suspected his grand total was probably in the
thousands. So…what ever happened to him? How is it that we both ended
up near the corner spot on the LAST day ever at Yankee Stadium? It
turned out that *I’m* the one who disappeared. He only has a weekend
season ticket plan, and I stopped going to games on weekends. That was
it. He’d still been going to Yankee Stadium all these years.
Incredible. We were both so happy to see each other. I’m telling you, I
almost cried when I saw him after all these years. He really was a
legend to me, but we’d never kept in touch away from the ballpark. This
time, however, I made sure to get his phone number and ask him dozens
of questions, and then his daughter Cathy took a few photos of us. Here
we are:

artie_zack.jpg

You want to know how many baseballs Artie has caught since 1945?

3,950

That’s more than me!

He told me he’d heard about my books and had seen me catching those two
home runs on TV, and when I told him what MY grand total of baseballs
was, he said, “You’ve carried on my torch, and you did it in a graceful
way. I’m proud of you.”

I can’t tell you how good it made me feel to hear him say that.

The fans started making their way around the warning track…

fans_on_field.jpg

…and there was still lots of time to kill, so Artie and I kept
talking. He doesn’t know exactly how many game home run balls he’s
snagged, but he has 36 of his catches just on tape. In 1961, he caught
home runs by both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, and he said those are
the only two balls he kept. He wishes he’d kept more, but he donated
them all to an autism foundation. (He has two autistic grandkids.) His
one-game record is 12. His single-season record is “over 200.” That was
back in ’61. He’s gotten lots of balls tossed to him by players
(including Ted Williams!) but he’s never used a ball-retrieving device.
He told me that back in the 1940s, players didn’t throw many balls into
the crowd, and they almost never hit home runs during batting practice
because they actually treated it like “practice” and didn’t swing for
the fences.

Artie, who will be turning 70 in February, pulled out a little photo
album and told me stories as I flipped through. There were photos of
him on the field with Don Mattingly, walking in the stands with Roger
Maris, at a birthday party with Billy Martin. I’m telling you…the man
is a LEGEND, and I might have to write an entire chapter in my next
book about him. I don’t know, but I can tell you that this is not the
last time you’ll be hearing his name.

I took a break from my conversation with Artie to do a five-minute live phone interview with a radio station in England called “talkSPORT.”
Then, while Jeff held the corner spot, I took Scott and Adam with me
and caught up with Ken Derry, the managing editor of Yankees Magazine.
Ken had gotten in touch after my home run catches and said that he was
going to do a “little story” on me.

The “little” story was apparently going to have a little photograph of me:

zack_photo_for_yankees_magazine.jpg

(Thanks to Scott for taking the photo that you see above.)

The photographer–her name was Arie–took about 50 shots in the span of
two minutes and then disappeared into the crowd. Ken then pulled out a
voice recorder and interviewed me for about 20 minutes. The story will
appear in the “closing ceremonies” issue, which will be coming out in
November.

After the interview, I took a photo of the nearby “SportsCenter” set-up…

sportscenter.jpg

…and the show went to a commercial break, I shouted at Steve Phillips.

He looked up.

I did my stupid “Cabbage Patch” dance.

He raised his eyebrows and pointed at me as if to say, “That was YOU?!”

I nodded and pointed at myself.

He nodded and gave me a thumbs-up.

I was hoping he’d wave me down to the front row and bring me on the air, but no, that was the end of it.

(In case you haven’t yet seen my home runs catches and celebratory dances, you can see the Jason Giambi homer here and the Johnny Damon homer here.)

I went back out to the corner spot in right field (big thanks to Jeff
for staying there) and saw Spike Lee following Reggie Jackson with a
small video camera:

spike_films_reggie.jpg

Finally, at around 4:30pm, the Yankees came out and began stretching:

yankees_before_batting_practice_09_21_08.jpg

Looks like a nice relaxing day, right?

Well, check out the view to my left:

crowd_before_batting_practice.jpg

Thank God I had the corner spot because it would NOT have been easy.
See the tall guy wearing the backwards cap and the unbuttoned road
jersey? He ended up catching four balls, including two home runs on a
fly and a third which hit the Loge facade and bounced back to him. See
the kid at the bottom middle of the photo with his chin on his fist?
That’s Brian (aka “puckcollector”) from this blog. And do you see the
man who’s standing closest to the camera with his cap pulled down over
his eyes? That’s Jeff.

Just before BP started, I ran into another stadium regular named Howard
Pressman. He had been quoted in the first paragraph of the first article EVER written about my baseball collection. Here we are:

zack_howard_pressman.jpg

BP finally got underway, and Adam snagged a ball before I did. Yankees
reliever Phil Coke tossed it to a security guard who flipped it up.
Even though I could’ve caught it, I didn’t reach out for it because it
was clearly intended for Adam, and I wanted him to enjoy the rush of
catching the ball on his own. It was commemorative, and here he is holding it up:

adam_showing_his_ball.jpg

I also managed to talk Phil Coke out of a commemorative ball even
though he recognized me as THAT GUY who caught the two home runs and
wasn’t exactly dying to give me one as a result. I ended up giving that
ball to Scott who had positioned himself in the seats along the right
field foul line and therefore didn’t have a chance to snag a ball on
his own.

When the Orioles came out, I quickly got Jamie Walker to throw me my
second ball of the day. Thankfully, Jeremy Guthrie was nowhere in sight
at the time, so when he finally appeared, he greeted me with a smile
and imitated my dance…

jeremy_guthrie_imitating_my_dance.jpg

…and then tossed me ball No. 3.

Guthrie is a COOL guy. Not only had he remembered me after two days and
kept his promise by hooking me up with a ball, but he was interacting
with the fans throughout BP. One fan asked him to scoop up some dirt
from the warning track, and he did it! Check it out:

jeremy_guthrie_scooping_dirt.jpg

I got one more ball tossed to me by Brian Bass. It was just a regular ball, but it ended up being a very special ball indeed…

ball3773_last_at_yankee_stadium.jpg

The four of us headed upstairs for the pre-game ceremony. This was our view:

pregame_ceremony_view.jpg

It was incredible to hear a recorded welcome message from longtime P.A.
announcer Bob Sheppard…and to see Babe Ruth’s daughter throw out
(okay, so she bounced it) the ceremonial first pitch…and to see
former Yankee greats actually wearing the uniforms and taking their
positions on the field…but the ceremony was still lacking, in my
opinion. To me, it seemed like it was TOO focused on the players and
not focused enough on the stadium itself. But hey…still cool.

The four of us stayed in our seats through the top of the first inning
and then headed downstairs for the sole purpose of catching the last
home run at Yankee Stadium.

There were hardly any empty seats (as you might imagine), so we
wandered aimlessly for a bit and couldn’t see much of the game. Scott
was more interested in watching, and Adam was more interested in
snagging, so we split up. Scott and his dad went back up to the seats
while Adam and I roamed.

We started in left field, but there truly wasn’t any place to sit or
stand, so we headed all the way around the stadium and camped out in
the tunnel in the middle of the short porch.

Security kept telling us we had to move, so we kept shuffling our
position in attempt to linger there as long as possible. At one point,
we walked back to the corner spot and stayed back against the railing
at the back of the aisle. That’s where Artie and Cathy were sitting,
and they didn’t mind that we were, as I described it, “invading” their
space.

“I want you to catch it,” said Artie.

“If I catch the last home run in your section.” I said, “I’m always gonna feel guilty.”

He assured me I didn’t need to and was glad to catch up with me again for a bit.

In the bottom of the third inning, with two on and nobody out, Johnny
Damon hit a home run that landed IN the aisle about 40 feet to our
left. We couldn’t move. There was hardly any room to walk, even when
there wasn’t a valuable ball flying in our direction, so once the ball
left the bat and people stood up out of their folding chairs, that was
it. Done/ No chance. If I’d been standing at the front of the tunnel, I
would’ve had a great chance of catching the ball, but even then there
wouldn’t have been a guarantee.

The guy who caught it (barehanded, no less) was mobbed by reporters
within minutes. I walked over and took a photo. Was THIS going to be
the last home run ever hit at Yankee Stadium? I didn’t know. So at the
time this was a BIG deal. Here he is with the ball. His name is Brian
Elmer:

brian_elmer.jpg

It was a regular/commemorative ball. I was thinking that there might’ve
been special “final day” balls in use, but that wasn’t the case. The
ball wasn’t marked either. Security never escorted him off. The MLB
authenticator never made an appearance. It was sloppy, and I was
stunned. This was a big deal, as I mentioned above, and yet it
wasn’t…based on the way it was handled.

Here’s a photo that’ll give you an idea of how cramped the aisle was in
right field. You can actually see a reporter (in a tan shirt) crouching
in the aisle while interviewing Elmer.

short_porch_aisle.jpg

Adam and I were kicked out of the corner spot soon after, and ten
minutes after that, we were kicked out of the tunnel. (Damn!) We had no
choice but to head back to left field, and while we were on our way,
Jose Molina hit a home run that landed on the protective netting over
Monument Park. (I heard later from my friend Eric Marinbach, a Yankee
Stadium regular who sits out there, that a security guard ended up
GIVING the ball to another fan. What the hell?!)

Amazingly, we found two empty seats in the first row behind the aisle,
all the way out against the side wall in straight-away left field. I
ended up sitting in the exact same seat that I was in when I jumped up
and caught the Kevin Millar homer two months earlier. This was the view:

view_from_left_field_09_21_08.jpg

Sadly, there weren’t any other homers for the rest of the night.

This is how the Yankees announced the attendance:

total_attendance.jpg

This was the scene less than 60 seconds after Mariano Rivera threw the last pitch:

postgame1_police.jpg

(I got a great video of the final pitch. You wouldn’t believe how many
flashbulbs were going off. I might post the video on YouTube at some
point.)

Here’s the final score:

postgame2_scoreboard.jpg

Adam and I headed to the upper deck and got there in time to see the Yankees’ final lap around the field:

postgame3_yankees_victory_lap.jpg

It took us about 20 minutes to reach our assigned seats, where we caught up with Scott and Jeff. Here I am with the boys:

postgame4_scott_zack_adam.jpg

I didn’t see THAT much vandalism. This was the worst of it…

postgame5_vandalization.jpg

…although I did notice that there were an awful lot of cup holders
missing when we all wandered back down to the field level. This was the
scene:

postgame6_stadium_emptying_out.jpg

And that was pretty much it. Jeff had to work early the next day, while
Adam and Scott had to be at school–and they had to drive back to New
Jersey, so they headed off. I lingered inside the stadium until
security kicked me out. The only thing I grabbed on my way was a
three-inch stack of napkins that’d been abandoned on an empty vending
cart. Why not.

Goodbye, Yankee Stadium. I hate to admit it, but I’ll miss you…

STATS:

hank_aaron.jpg

? 4 balls at this game

? 496 balls in 66 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

? 562 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 128 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball

? 14 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

? 3,773 total balls

Remember when I started comparing my baseball total to players’ career hit totals? Well, I’m now ahead of Hank Aaron (3,771) and in third place all time behind Ty Cobb (4,191).

(Apologies for any typos in the this entry. I wrote the whole thing in
less than three hours and didn’t even have a chance to read through it
once. I’ll give it proper edit tonight when I get back from Shea.)

9/19/08 at Yankee Stadium

It was dark when I woke up. I’d gotten less than four hours of sleep. I
quickly shaved and brushed my teeth and got dressed and headed
downstairs with my glove and my girlfriend Jona and a duffel bag full of baseballs. It was 6:30am. There was supposed to be a car waiting
for us. I was supposed to be on “The Early Show” in half an hour. I
called my contact at CBS. She told me the car was on the way. I called
back three minutes later. Still no car. She told me to get a cab and
that she’d reimburse me. Then the car showed up. We picked up my mom
and flew through Central Park:

CBS1_ride_to_early_show.jpg

I hadn’t even been awake for an hour, and the day was already a blur.

We
arrived on the set–an outdoor plaza on 59th Street & 5th Avenue–at
around 6:50am. It was cold and windy. Several staffers greeted me and
rushed me off the sidewalk and hooked me up with a microphone and an
ear piece as my mom (holding the green Argosy bag) looked on:

CBS2_zack_getting_miked.jpg

The ear piece wouldn’t stay in my ear.

“If it falls out on-air, just hold it in place,” said a voice.

Several other staffers appeared with two rectangular clear plastic boxes and helped me transfer the balls into them.

Then, almost without warning, I was told to get ready to open the show.

“What am I supposed to do?” I asked.

“Hold up your two home run balls and do your dance,” said the woman in the green jacket.

“For how long?”

“Until I tell you to stop.”

“We’re on in thirty!” yelled another voice.

“Okay,
stand by,” said the woman, and before I knew it, she was pointing at me
to indicate that the cameras–all three of them–were rolling. I was on
live national TV. I held up the balls as the audio portion of the show
pounded my left eardrum. Then I danced, stopping briefly to roll my
eyes, and continued until my right ear heard someone shout, “That was
great!”

I was rushed inside to get a new ear piece and then led (along with my mom and Jona) to the green room:

CBS3_green_room.jpg

We
helped ourselves to some food, and the producer of my segment came in
to prep me. Super-nice guy. Young. Cute (according to Jona). His name
was (and still is, I imagine) Warren. He asked to see the glove trick,
reviewed the three ball-snagging tips we’d discussed the night before
on the phone, and told me that my entire segment had been bumped up
“from a minute and thirty seconds to two-ten.”

Then I headed back outside to do another “teaser”:

CBS4_zack_teaser1.jpg

At 7:21am, I was finally given some makeup to hide the bags under my eyes. Naturally, this was Jona’s favorite part of the day:

CBS5_zack_makeup.jpg

Then it was back outside for another teaser. I decided to juggle:

CBS6_zack_teaser2.jpg

This
was the last teaser. I headed back to the green room (as three security
guards stayed with the balls) and talked to the two international
soccer players who were going to be doing a cooking segment later in
the show.

Warren came and got me and led me back outside. This time it was the real deal:

CBS7_before_main_interview.jpg

The
main feature of the interview was the glove trick. First I showed Julie Chen (who was holding one of the two home runs balls) how it works…

CBS8_zack_glove_trick.jpg

…and then struggled briefly during my attempt to reel in the other. CRAP!!!
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the ground (as you can kinda see
in the following photo) was slanted down toward the drain in front of
me, so as soon as the tip of my glove touched the ball, it started
rolling away. Fortunately I made a quick recovery and proved to the
world that the glove trick really does work:

CBS9_zack_glove_trick.jpg

The segment closed with another dance performance, and I felt a little less stupid about it when all the anchors joined me:

CBS10_zack_dancing.jpg

Jona later admitted that they danced even worse than me. (“I thought it was just a white-boy thing,” she said.)

It took a team effort to pack up the balls…

CBS11_balls_being_packed_up.jpg

…and then I went home for a live phone interview with “Boomer and Carton” on WFAN 660AM. You can find the segment and listen to it on this page.
Just do a search for my name or scroll down ’til you see me. Remember
that the date was “9-19″ and when you see the little blurb about me,
click the tiny “play” button.

Once again, just like
the day before, I had a million calls and emails to deal with, and
whenever I had a break, I worked on my blog. (Jona, meanwhile, went out
to run a few errands and came back with a copy of Newsday which had this article
about me.) I heard from a guy at “Inside Edition” and talked to someone
else at NPR and eventually met FOX News at my parents’ place at 2:30pm.
That’s where I keep most of the balls.

We did the first part of the interview while the balls were still hidden…

FOX1.jpg

…and then I opened up the barrels and drawers for the camera:

FOX2.jpg

After the FOX people left at 2:50pm, I basically passed out in the living room (Jona doesn’t miss a thing)…

FOX3_napping_after_interview.jpg

…but
didn’t get to rest for more than 10 minutes before leaving for Yankee
Stadium. (The FOX segment, by the way, aired that same day on the local
six o’clock and ten o’clock news. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to give a
heads-up, but I was told that it can now be seen online. I haven’t yet had
a chance to look for it so let me know if you find it.)

Remember
the guy named Hideo who works for a Japanese public TV station called
NHK? Well, he was back at Yankee Stadium, and when he saw me (and
Jona) waiting outside the bleacher entrance, he asked if he could film
me again.

First he had me re-enact the walk from the subway:

NHK1.jpg

Once we reached the bleacher entrance, I showed all my ball-snagging “equipment”…

NHK2.jpg

…and after answering a bunch of questions about what Yankee Stadium means to me, I demonstrated the glove trick:

NHK3.jpg

Several people asked to have their picture taken with me…

zack_and_random_fans1_09_19_08.jpg

…and before long, it was time for batting practice.

I roamed all over the place early on…

zack_during_BP1_09_19_08.jpg

…but
didn’t get a thing. I had a few very close calls and several other
unlucky bounces. On a good day, all those balls might’ve ended up in my
drawstring backpack, but on this day it just wasn’t happening. I don’t
know why. Just one of those things?

I got lucky halfway through
the Yankees’ portion of BP when some fans dropped a ball into the gap
between the outfield wall and the base of the stands. By this point it
was too crowded for Jona to find a space along the railing and capture
the action below, so she stayed behind me and ended up getting a pretty
cool shot. Notice how my feet were off the ground…

glove_trick_09_19_08.jpg

…which
means all 175 pounds of me were being pressed against the railing via
my stomach. (I was balancing on the railing in the exact same way when
I caught the Damon homer–feet off the ground and everything–but you
can’t tell in any of the footage.
What a shame.) The reason I was up on the railing is that the ball was
on the far side of the netting. (If you’re unfamiliar with the
bleachers, you can see a photo of the gap and netting in this
entry.) Basically I had to get up high in order to reach far out.
Anyway, the trick worked, and I had my first ball of the day–a very
important ball as it turned out, and yes, it was commemorative:

ball3768.jpg

There
wasn’t much action after that, so Jona borrowed my Orioles cap (to
shade her eyes) and waited patiently as I suffered. Here she is–the
woman behind the camera:

jona_during_BP.jpg

Once the Yankees jogged off the field, I switched into my Orioles gear and stood out in the sea of white and gray and navy blue:

zack_during_BP2_09_19_08.jpg

It
didn’t help. The Orioles hardly threw ANY balls into the crowd, and the
fact that most of their batters were right-handed didn’t help my cause
either. I didn’t snag a single ball during the 45 minutes that they
were on the field.

HOWEVER…

There was one good thing
that happened during that time. When I asked Jeremy Guthrie for a ball,
he turned around and immediately recognized me as THAT GUY who caught
the two home runs. I know he recognized me because he briefly imitated
my dance move. Wow. He walked over to the warning track and asked if I
was really THAT GUY, and when I said yes, he started quizzing me about
the various T-shirts that I’d been wearing throughout the week.

“What’re you doing wearing an Orioles shirt?” he asked.

“I’m
not actually a Yankee fan,” I said. Then I turned around and showed him
the back of my shirt and told him that Ripken is my favorite player of
all time.

Guthrie took the ball out of his glove.

“Don’t give it to him!” shouted another fan.

jeremy_guthrie_2008.jpg
“Don’t worry, I won’t!” yelled Guthrie. “He’s got enough already!” and with that he flipped the ball 20 feet to my left.

I caught his attention just as he was getting ready to walk away.

“Listen,” I said. “I don’t care about catching any balls today, but I’m gonna be here on Sunday for the final game, and I’m dying to get a ball that day. Is there any chance at all that you might be able to hook me up?”

“You mean a BP ball?” he asked.

“Yeah, anything.”

“Oh yeah, that’s no problem.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah,” he said, “where are you gonna be?”

“Well
that’s the thing. I’m not sure. I haven’t figured out my strategy
yet. Do you know if you guys are even gonna take BP?”

“I’m not sure.”

The
conversation went on for another minute, and he told me that if there
was BP, I should meet him on the short porch in right field and if
there wasn’t BP, he’d still have to come out and throw in which case
he’d look for me along the left field foul line.

How.
Awesome.
Is.
That.

I
just hope he remembers and keeps his promise. The last time I went to a
game and didn’t snag at least one ball was in September of 1993. It’d
be a real shame if that streak were to end on an otherwise incredible
day.

After BP, I caught up with a fellow baseball-snagger named
Mike (aka “yankees42294″ if you read the comments on this blog) who was
also wearing a Ripken shirt and had a ball-retrieving device. Here we
are:

michael_and_zack.jpg

A few more fans asked to take their picture with me…

zack_and_random_fans2_09_19_08.jpg

…and that’s when the battery in my camera died.

The rest of my evening can be summed up as follows:

1)
A particular season ticket holder who narrowly missed both of the home
runs I caught ratted me out to security and told them I didn’t belong
in the wheelchair aisle. (The way I see it, if he leaves the game in the
seventh inning and I take his seat and catch a homer in the eighth,
that’s not my fault.)

2) Security and several other
season ticket holders made me feel rather unwelcome. (Good thing this
was the last time I was ever planning to be in the bleachers anyway.)

3)
I left the stadium with Jona, walked to the ticket office, and bought
two seats IN the aisle in front of section 41 which is exactly where I
wanted to be. (It had occurred to me that those seats, if left unsold,
would be released to the public at some point; clearly that point had
arrived by the time I tried to buy them in the top of the third inning.)

4)
I waltzed back into the bleachers and stunned everyone when I appeared
in the wheelchair aisle with two folding chairs and a sexy mama by my
side. (Not surprisingly, a good number of people still felt the need to
call me “gay” despite the presence of the aforementioned sexy mama. I
think it was all the dancing that had them convinced.)

5)
No home runs were hit into the bleachers. (I heard later that Michael
Kay spotted me on a deep fly out to right-center by Xavier Nady.)

6)
After I returned to the seat from having my picture taken with a few
more people, Jona said she overheard a fan behind her talking about how
all he wanted to do was prevent me from getting another ball. She then
told me that for the rest of the night, whenever I got up to chase a
ball, she would get up too and block this other fan. (Jona is 5-foot-8
and knows how to…let’s say…use her body. Don’t mess with her.)

7)
Before the ninth inning got underway, Brett Gardner threw his warm-up
ball into the crowd, or at least he tried to. Unfortunately for the
fans he was aiming for, and luckily for me, it fell short and landed in
the gap. I already had the rubber band stretched around my glove, just
for ball3769.jpg
this reason. Before Mike had a chance to run over with his cup trick,
and before security had a chance to stop me, I was standing over the
ball and lowering my glove. The glove made it all the way down, but I
couldn’t get the ball to stick inside on the first try. That’s when I
heard a police officer tell me I had to stop doing that. I played dumb
for two seconds, raised the glove a few inches, and lowered it back
over the ball for what I knew would be my final attempt. The officer demanded
that I stop at once and bring my glove up. So I did. Slowly. Because
the ball was tucked snugly inside. (Once I had the ball in my bare hand, I made sure to hide it until
I’d walked past the cop. Then, once I was within view of the fan who was
supposedly going to try to interfere, I made sure he and his buddies saw it.)

8) Mariano Rivera nearly blew the save but escaped his own jam and preserved the Yankees’ 3-2 lead.

9) After the final out, Jona and I made a mad dash to the subway and beat the crowd.

I
just did a little calculatin’ and came up with this nugget: If the
Yankees and Orioles don’t combine to hit more than three homers in the
Final Game, I’ll be able to say that I caught two of the last ten home
runs ever hit at Yankee Stadium. Of course, given the fact that I’ll BE
at the Final Game, I’m obviously hoping to catch THE final home run. I
won’t be sitting in the bleachers. I’m not sure exactly where I’ll be
or what I’ll be wearing, but know that if there’s a way to make
something happen, I’m bound to find it…

STATS:

? 2 balls at this game

? 492 balls in 65 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 561 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 127 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball

? 3,769 total balls

5/21/08 at Yankee Stadium

Let’s begin with a look at the New Yankee Stadium from the above-ground “subway” platform of the No. 4 train:

new_yankee_stadium.jpg

Just before my train pulled into the station, I got a quick peek inside the stadium (you can see that peek here) and saw that the field WAS set up for batting practice. Phew! The weather was iffy. There was rain in the forecast. I had no idea what to expect, and I’d decided that if there wasn’t BP, I wasn’t even going to exit the subway. I would’ve just switched over to the downtown platform and gone home.

Of course, after I exited and walked halfway around the stadium and bought a ticket and walked back to Gate 6 and got on line and ate my egg salad sandwich, it started raining. Panic set in. But I stayed. And ran inside at 5:05pm. And crossed the concourse. And hurried through the tunnel for a look at the field. And there was…batting practice! Wooo!

Less than a minute later, I asked LaTroy “Headhunter” Hawkins to throw me a ball, and as soon as the words were out of my mouth, another fan asked him too. This other fan was taller and older and had a glove. LaTroy tossed it up between us. I jumped higher and made the catch, and that’s a good thing. Check it out:

commemorative_ball_from_latroy.jpg

Okay…I have good news and bad news. First the bad: The Yankees ended BP ten minutes early, didn’t hit a single home run into the short porch (one reached the upper deck), and only tossed balls to kids who appeared to be less than six years old. Now the good: Most of the balls were commemorative. I made a point of looking at the balls that other fans snagged, and I’d say two-thirds were the kind you see above. In addition, the one I got was clearly brand new. It wasn’t rubbed up with mud like this ball from Shea, so in other words, commemorative balls are now going straight from the Rawlings boxes to the BP buckets. So in other words, there’s no reason to email me and ask for one. Seriously, the season is barely six weeks old, and I’ve already gotten more emails than I can count from people who want one. These balls are not THAT scarce. It’s only May. There’s plenty of season left. Just go to ONE Yankees batting practice and catch ONE ball, and the odds are that it will be commemorative.

Forgive me if I’m being harsh. There’s something about Yankee Stadium (even writing about Yankee Stadium a day after the fact) that puts me on edge. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the fact that after the Orioles took the field for BP and I’d switched into my Orioles cap, a Yankee fan happened to bump into me from behind as he tried to work his way through the crowded aisle behind the right field wall.

“Whoop, sorry,” he said.

“No problem,” I replied as I turned around and gave him a friendly nod.

“Wait a second,” he said, looking at my hat. “No I’m not.” And he disappeared into the crowd.

He wasn’t joking. No smile. No pat on the back. No “good luck to your team.” (Not that I even have a team.) Just pure hostility. And THAT is Yankee Stadium for you. Two weeks ago, I got a random email from a guy in San Diego who wanted to know if I thought it’d be safe for him to wear a “Friar robe” to Yankee Stadium for the Padres series in mid-June. How sad is it that a fan would have to worry about his safety before rooting for his team? Equally sad, I had to advise him not to wear it. One of the best things about attending last year’s All-Star Game was getting to see fans from all over coming together and representing their teams and celebrating baseball as a whole. At Yankee Stadium, that doesn’t happen, and it’s one of the many reasons why I don’t like being there. To be fair, I don’t like being at Shea either, and Mets fans are a different kind of lame for still being so bitter about last season’s collapse and continuing to boo their team (and manager) into oblivion.

jeremy_guthrie_foul_line.jpgAnyway…
Once the O’s took the field, I snagged my second ball off the warning track with my glove trick and used my keen observational skills to get ball #3. From my spot in straight-away right field, I saw Jeremy Guthrie head over to the foul line to sign autographs, and less than a minute later, one of his teammates threw/rolled a ball at him from a couple hundred feet away. The ball trickled to the base of the wall at his feet. Guthrie turned back to give his teammate(s) a dirty look, then picked up the ball and stuck it in his back pocket. I watched closely (while keeping an eye on the batter) to see what he did with the ball. I figured he was going to hand it to a kid, but he never did. Meanwhile, batting practice was deader that dead–the first home run ended up landing in the porch at 5:50pm–so I abandoned my spot and raced over to the foul line and stayed five rows behind the mob.

“Jeremy,” I said loudly but politely, “is there any chance you could spare that ball, please?”

He looked up and saw my Orioles cap and said, “There’s a very small chance.”

“That’s better than no chance,” I said. “I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”

jeremy_guthrie.jpg
He looked in my direction several times over the next few minutes, and I alternated between pointing at my glove and pointing at my hat. Finally, he looked right at me and flipped the ball to me over everyone’s hands. It was beautiful.

Five minutes later, I was back in right field and had another chance to use the glove trick. As I was lifting it slowly from the warning track, Guthrie starting sprinting toward me, presumably to knock the ball out of my glove, so I tugged the whole thing up a quickly as possible. I was sure the ball was going to slip out, but I had no choice. Somehow, though, the ball stayed in the glove as Guthrie lunged and jumped for it. I’m telling you, it was JUST beyond his reach and he went all out to get it. This was my fourth ball of the day and 100th of the season. I got the sense that Guthrie was just being playful, and because he’d already given me a ball, I wouldn’t have put the Hample Jinx on him even if he’d denied me from getting this one.

I came close to catching a home run toward the end of BP, and even though I didn’t get it, it’s still worth mentioning. The ball was hooking into the gap between the grandstand and the bleachers, so I moved five or ten feet to my right, and at the last second I jumped up onto the slanted side wall so that I was briefly balancing on my stomach, and I leaned way out into the gap and reached as far as I could. The ball tipped off the very end of my glove. So frustrating.

RF_from_LF.jpgI stayed in left field for most of the game, hoping once again to catch an A-Rod homer. The Man is locked in. He’s in The Zone. He hit everything hard. It was like Yankee Stadium was his personal playground, not nearly big enough to contain him. Bottom of the third? A-Rod got under the ball and still hit it out to the deepest part of the yard. It was a lazy 410-foot fly ball (if there IS such a thing) that kept carrying and carrying and landed on the center-field side of Monument Park. The next inning? Line-drive double down the right field line. Two innings later? Another home run which was hit so hard to right-center and ricocheted so fast off the side of some concrete steps right above the wall that the helpless umps ruled it a double.

And that was it. The Yankees scored enough runs and had had enough base runners for A-Rod to get a fifth at-bat in the bottom of the seventh, but no, with an 8-0 lead, Joe Girardi took him out of the game and sent up Morgan Ensberg instead. What a waste.

For the last nine outs, I sat in the third row behind the Yankees’ dugout and enjoyed watching Joba Chamberlain up close. He topped out at 100mph. His fastballs were exploding out of his hand and reaching the batter in such a short amount of time…it was almost comical. And then he dropped a few shin-high pitches at 88mph. I don’t know if it was his change-up or slider–I couldn’t see lateral movement from my view from the side–but all I know is that he looked as dominant as any pitcher I’ve ever seen. I don’t even like the Yankees and I’m excited to see what this guy’s gonna do in the starting rotation.

STATS:

? 4 balls at this game

? 100 balls in 11 games this season = 9.1 balls per game.

? 507 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 111 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball

? 11 consecutive seasons with at least 100 balls

? 3,377 total balls

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